It is common to see signs in restaurants warning women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages. The effects of alcohol on a pregnant woman's body are well-known by the majority of the population. However, not the same thing can be said about the effects on alcohol on women who are breastfeeding. In order to ensure that parents don't put themselves, or their babies, at risk, it's important to know the effects of this risky behavior.

When Used Responsibly, Alcohol Is Alright
A glass or two of alcohol per week has not been recognized as harmful to the baby. In fact, most pediatric organizations considered alcohol consumption during breastfeeding safe. However, small doses are the key to this statement. Most doctors say that women should not breastfeed for 2 hours after they drink an alcoholic beverage. It's important to stick with the doctor's recommendations when it comes to drinking and breastfeeding.

Alcohol and Mom
Once a woman has given birth, the majority of the risks associated with drinking alcohol disappear. Moms who want to primarily breastfeed their baby should avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, since they have actually been linked to a decrease in milk production. In some cases, the amount of milk that you produce will decrease by as much as 23%.  Moms might also have to deal with an increased risk of post partum depression, due to the fact that alcohol is a depressant. If you are at risk of depression, do not drink alcohol while breastfeeding.

Alcohol and Baby
Babies who nurse from a mother who is a light drinker tend to develop more slowly than those who nurse from their alcohol-free counterparts. Studies have shown that babies who nurse from a mom who drinks occasionally tend to have slower weight gain rate, slower rate of motor development, and higher chance at a disrupted sleep pattern. The more the mother drinks, the more likely it is that the baby will not develop as quickly as others.

In Excess...

Alcoholism will affect your baby if you are breastfeeding and drinking heavily. There have been many studies that show developmental issues will be exacerbated by a mother who is breastfeeding while drinking daily. This includes slow gross motor development, higher rate of colic, and behavioral problems later in life. If you are drinking alcohol daily while breastfeeding, it's best to switch to formula.

So, Is There Any Rule Of Thumb?
There are two rules that doctors suggest for women who decide to drink while they are breastfeeding.

  1. Avoid drinking more than 2 alcoholic beverages per week, and avoid breastfeeding for 2 hours after consuming alcoholic beverages.
  2. Breastfeeding moms can use the drinking and driving test as a quick means of determining whether or not breastfeeding is safe after alcohol consumption. Sober enough to drive means sober enough to breastfeed. Not sober enough to drive means skipping breastfeeding and bottle feeding instead.